PALM BEACH, FLORIDA — A verdict Tuesday in a double-murder case brought tears to three families, but only the family of acquitted defendant Daniel Canellas left the courtroom happy.
After 4 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury found the 27-year-old Riviera Beach man not guilty of first-degree murder in the August 1999 shooting deaths of two teenagers. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, but the defense convinced jurors the shootings were self-defense.
There was no consolation for the families of Tamer Selim, 17, and Richard Stanley, 15, who prosecutors argued were each shot twice in the head by an angry Canellas because they made fun of one of his friends the night they agreed to give the teens a ride home.
"I will tolerate no outbursts, no emotions," Circuit Judge Hubert Lindsey warned the packed courtroom before the verdict was announced.
Stanley's family left the courtroom in tears, hugging one another, and quickly fled the courthouse without commenting. Selim's mother -- who attended the lengthy trial faithfully -- was too overcome with grief to make it farther than a bench just outside the courtroom, where she broke down wailing.
It took family members several minutes to calm her enough to escort her from the courthouse, still visibly upset.
The emotional verdict was one of joy for Canellas' mother, who said she knew all along that her son wasn't capable of committing murder.
"I am extremely happy," said Nayla Canellas. "I'm very, very sorry about what happened to the kids."
The jury took several straw votes, calmly discussing the testimony and twice re-enacting the shootings based on the evidence and testimony they heard, said one juror, a West Palm Beach resident who didn't want to be identified because of concern about being harassed. After that, they agreed it was self-defense.
"If it wouldn't have been [self-defense], he would be guilty. It was justifiable homicide," the juror said.
Three of the jurors contacted after the verdict declined to comment on their decision.
Nayla Canellas thanked the jurors for their effort.
"They took their time, looked at all the evidence and came back with the right verdict," she said.
The judge granted a request that Canellas be released immediately from jail, where he has been held since the day of the shootings. His parents and sisters expected him home Tuesday night in time to go to church and attend a family celebration.
Despite the verdict, prosecutors remained convinced that seeking the murder charges and death penalty were appropriate, said Palm Beach County State Attorney's spokesman Mike Edmondson.
"The jury has determined it was something other than murder, a justifiable act," he said. "The disappointment would be in that a person the prosecutor believes committed murder is being set free."
Defense attorney Richard Lubin argued that Canellas resorted to using the .22-caliber pistol he was carrying for protection only after the two teens became aggressive and grabbed for the gun during a struggle. Prosecutors contended the shootings weren't a justifiable use of deadly force.
Canellas' friend who gave the boys a ride, Shannon McDonald, testified the boys were making fun of him and being disrespectful before Canellas opened fire. Lubin attacked his credibility, saying he was trying to distance himself from any responsibility.
After the verdict, Lubin said the case was a tragedy but that jurors reached a just verdict.
"It's always sad when you have a murder case. In this case, we had two young men who were killed. ... My heart goes out to the families of the two young men who were killed," he said. "It was very sad, but justice was done in this case."
Peter Franceschina can be reached at 561-832-2894.
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